1. Gangā (Modern Ganges). One of the
five great rivers (Mahānadī) that water Jambudīpa, the others being Yamunā,
Aciravatī, Sarabhū, and Mahī (E.g., Vin.ii.237; S. ii.135; v.401;
A.iv.101; v.22; Mil.114 mentions ten).
The Commentaries (E.g., SnA.ii.438f;
AA.ii.761ff; MA.ii.586; UdA.301) give a long description of their origin. From
the Anotatta lake flow four rivers: that from the south circles the lake three
times under the name of Avattagangā, then as Kanhagangā flows straight for sixty
leagues along the surface of a rock, comes into violent contact with a vertical
rock, and is thrown upwards as a column of water three gāvutas in circumference;
this column, known as Akāsagangā, flows through the air for sixty leagues, falls
on to the rock Tiyaggala, excavating it to a depth of fifty leagues, thus
forming a lake which is called Tiyaggalapokkharanī; then the river, under the
name of Bahalagangā, flows through a chasm in the rock for sixty leagues, then,
under the name of Ummaggagangā, through a tunnel for a further sixty leagues,
and finally coming upon the oblique rock Vijjha, divides into five streams,
forming the five rivers above mentioned.
Among places mentioned as being on the
banks of the Gangā are Benāres, Campā, Ayojjha, Kimbhilā, Ukkāvelā, Payāga,
Pātaliputta, and Sankassa. The Gangā formed one of the most important means of
communication and trade for the districts through which it flowed - e.g., from
Rājagaha to Vesāli. The district to the north of the river and bordering on the
kingdom of Anga was called Anguttarāpa (SnA..ii.439). The river was five hundred
leagues in length (SA.ii.119).
The name of the Gangā appears again and
again in similes and metaphors in the Pāli books:
its sands are immeasurable (S.iv.376);
its waters cannot be made bracken by
adding to them a grain of salt (A.i.250);
it is full of foam, and yet its foam
is empty (S.iii.140);
it were folly to wish to hold up the
course of its waters with one's fist (S.iv.298);
as the river finds repose only in the
ocean, so do the followers of the Buddha find repose only in nibbāna
some things are as inevitable as that
the Gangā should flow into the sea (S.iv.179);
there is no such thing as the Gangā
apart from its sand, its water, and its banks;
to be cast on the other side of the
Gangā (pāragangāya) is great misfortune (see, e.g., S. i.207, SnA.i.228).
The Gangā flows from west to east (pācīnaninnā,
during the rains it is so full of
water that even a crow could drink water from its bank (Vin.i.230);
sometimes the banks would be flooded
and the buildings on them destroyed (SA.i.164), and people would find
difficulty in crossing;
at others it was shallow and could be
crossed by means of a reed bridge (SnA.i.18);
cattle could easily be driven from one
bank to another (M.i.225).
At various spots were ferries where
boatmen plied for hire (e.g., J. iii.230).
On its banks, on the higher reaches,
were numerous snakes and parrots (J.ii.145, iii.491),
and all along the banks were
hermitages (e.g., J. iii.476, v.191, etc.).
Men always bathed in the river, and on
festival days even women of very good family came for water-sports, sometimes
spending the whole day in the river; kings also came with their retinues
(e.g., J. i.295; MA.ii.604; DhA.iii.199).
Reference is also made to a
Gangāmahīkīlā, (Smp. on Vin.i.191, and again, ii.276). Buddhaghosa says that
Mahī here refers to the earth, but Rhys Davids (VT.ii.25, n.3) thinks it refers
to the river of that name.
The junction of the Gangā and the Yamunā
is frequently referred to, and is used as a simile for perfect union (e.g.,
J.vi.412, 415). A tributary of the Gangā is mentioned which flows from Himavā,
its name being Migasammatā (J.vi.72). The ford at Pātaliputta, where the Buddha
crossed on his way from Rājagaha to Vesāli, was called Gotamatittha (Vin.i.230);
its distance from Rājagaha was five leagues, and from Vesāli three (KhpA.162-3).
When the Buddha, after curing the plague at Vesāli, returned to Rājagaha, great
festivities marked the event, and the celebration was known as the Gangārohana.
The devas and the nāgas vied with each other to do honour to the Teacher, and
there was a great assembly of all classes of beings, comparable to those on the
occasions of the Twin Miracle and the Descent from Tusita (DhA.iii.444). Among
the nāgas who dwelt in the Gangā is mentioned Eraka (DhA.iii.231).
The water of the Gangā was considered
holy and was used for the consecration of kings, not only of India but also of
Ceylon (Mhv.Xi.30; MT.305).
The people on the northern bank were
rough and coarse, while those on the south were pious and generous, believers in
the Buddha (DA.i.160).
The upper reaches of the river were
called Uddhagangā (J.ii.283, vi.427) or Uparigangā (J.iv.230), and the lower
reaches Adhogangā (J.ii.283, 329, v.3).
See also Kosikī, Bhagīrathī, Mahāgangā,
2. Gangā. See Mahāvālukagangā.
3. Gangā. A lake, the residence of the
Nāga king Dona. BuA.153.